Lord Caitanya would meet in the evening with His followers
for hours of transcendental ecstasy.
By Jayadvaita Swami
The illustration on this page depicts Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra in the home of the great devotee Srivasa Thakura.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared in West Bengal, India, five hundred years ago, was an avatara or incarnation, of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Of course, in recent years self-proclaimed Gods have become a cheap commodity. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in contrast, never presented Himself as God but always as an insignificant living entity, a humble servant of God. Nonetheless, the scholarly followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu understood His true identity and proved it conclusively from revealed scriptures.
Among the many scriptural passages that refer to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, one verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam is particularly important:
yajanti hi su-medhasah
This verse indicates that when Lord Krsna appears in the present age, which is known as Kali-yuga, or the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy, His complexion is golden, He is surrounded by various associates, and His mission is to teach people how to make their lives spiritually sublime through the sankirtana-yajna, or chanting of the holy names Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
To fulfill this mission, Lord Krsna, in the form of Lord Caitanya, assumes the role of His own devotee. When Lord Krsna appeared on earth five thousand years ago, He revealed His opulences as bhagavan, the Supreme Godhead, and spoke the Bhagavad-gita, in which He concluded that the highest duty in human life is to give up all lower occupations and surrender exclusively to Him in pure devotional service. The Lord also gave His firm assurance that He will always protect from the reactions of all karma those who surrender to Him, so that they will surely obtain liberation from material existence. What Lord Krsna did not do, however, is demonstrate how to surrender to Him. How should one surrender to Krsna? How should one become His devotee? This is what Lord Krsna comes to show when He appears as Lord Caitanya.
The painting depicts Lord Caitanya in His youth, around the age of twenty-one, when He was just beginning to make known His teachings. At this time, Lord Caitanya was a married man, and He had something of a reputation as a skillful teacher of grammar and logic. But He had recently gone on a pilgrimage to Gaya, where He had met Isvara Puri, a great spiritual master in Krsna consciousness. Having received initiation in Krsna consciousness from Isvara Puri, Lord Caitanya returned home to Bengal full of ecstatic feelings of devotional love for Krsna. Following the instructions of His spiritual master. He had begun chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, and now He began chanting every evening in the company of other devotees.
This congregational chanting, Lord Caitanya taught, is the most effective means in the present age to purify our hearts and awaken our dormant love for God. He especially pointed out a verse in the Vedic literature that says.
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
The meaning of this verse is that in the present age, Kali-yuga, the best means of God realization is the chanting of the holy name of God. No other means of self-realization or God realization will be successful in this age. The verse repeats the words harer nama (“the holy name of the Lord”) three times, emphasizing with great force the importance of the chanting of the Lord’s holy name. It also repeats three times the words nasty eva to emphasize with equal force that no other way of spiritual realization will bring about the desired result. Other forms of yoga and spiritual and philosophical discipline are effective in other ages, but in the present age, which began 5,000 years ago and continues for more than 400,000 more, only the chanting of the holy name of God can bring about the desired success. The best way to surrender to Krsna and develop one’s devotion and love for Krsna is to chant the holy names of Krsna, especially as found in the maha-mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama. Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu led the congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra in Srivasa Thakura’s house every night for a full year. This pastime of the Lord’s is instructive in many ways. First, the Lord showed the importance of congregational chanting, chanting in the company of devotees. By chanting Hare Krsna one comes to the transcendental platform, because Krsna’s name is completely spiritual. Because of Krsna’s absolute spiritual nature, there is no difference between the name Krsna and Krsna Himself. So by chanting Hare Krsna one associates directly with Krsna, the Supreme Truth. One may chant anywhere, under any circumstances, and the chanting will always be effective. Nonetheless, the chanting becomes even more beneficial and more ecstatic when performed in the association of other devotees. The loud congregational vibration of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra acts with special effectiveness to create a purely spiritual atmosphere of Krsna consciousness that is naturally pleasing to the mind and heart. In such an atmosphere, one gradually develops a spiritual appreciation for Lord Krsna that matures into strong attraction to Him and ultimately into pure love and devotion for Krsna, the supreme transcendental Lord.
While chanting Hare Krsna, Lord Caitanya and the other devotees began dancing in ecstasy. This is a natural effect of the chanting. As the chanting of Hare Krsna begins to awaken one’s dormant Krsna consciousness, one feels spiritual ecstasy and feels like dancing. By dancing along with the chanting, one gives in to a natural spiritual feeling coming from the soul itself. So by chanting Hare Krsna and dancing in ecstasy one leaves behind the material hang-ups of one’s temporary physical identity and dances in the pleasure of eternal Krsna consciousness. Lord Caitanya taught that one should simply chant Hare Krsna and dance in ecstasy. Lord Caitanya was especially beautiful in His physical features, and by seeing the Lord’s dancing golden form and moonlike face the devotees at the house of Srivasa Thakura would all feel as though immersed in an ocean of transcendental bliss.
By chanting and dancing every evening, Lord Caitanya and His associates showed us the best way to use our evenings for spiritual advancement. The human form of life is especially meant for spiritual progress, because in human life one has the requisite intelligence with which to try to understand one’s self and one’s relationship with God. Unfortunately people waste their valuable human life in activities meant for nothing. During the day they work hard to get money or spend whatever money they have, and at night they come home to relax, eat dinner, have sex, and go to sleep. But Lord Caitanya taught that one can use one’s evenings for spiritual profit by chanting the holy name of the Lord. Instead of going to the movies, watching television, taking drugs, having sex, reading novels, or sleeping, one can chant Hare Krsna and makes one’s life sublime.
Another feature of Lord Caitanya’s nightly gatherings was krsna-prasada, delicious food that had been sanctified by having first been offered to Krsna. Lord Caitanya’s teachings were not dry, lifeless speculations, nor did He teach a life of harsh, impractical renunciation. Rather, He and His devotees chanted and danced in spiritual bliss, and after chanting and dancing they would take pleasure in discussing Krsna conscious topics of spiritual enlightenment and relish the taste of Krsna’s mercy in the form of krsna-prasada. This was the way of spiritual life that Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, playing the role of a pure devotee, taught by His own example.
It is significant that the Lord performed these pastimes while still a householder—that is, during His married life. Lord Caitanya and the associates shown here were practically all married men. So by their example they taught that to chant Hare Krsna one need not leave home and give up the world. One may continue one’s life at home and carry on one’s family responsibilities—but one should purify one’s consciousness by chanting Hare Krsna. The home of Srivasa Thakura is revered even today as a holy place because Lord Caitanya and His devotees chanted there. Similarly, one can transform one’s own home from an ordinary place for eating and sleeping into a transcendental place of spiritual culture simply by adding Krsna consciousness.
To carry forward the teachings of Lord Caitanya, the Krsna consciousness movement has temples all over the world where devotees continue to take part in Lord Caitanya’s nightly Hare Krsna festivals of chanting, dancing, feasting, and philosophy. Lord Caitanya taught that one can most easily and effectively cultivate one’s Krsna consciousness in the association of Krsna’s devotees.